If you’ve entered a mattress store recently, chances are you’ve came across the latest “it” item in the bedding industry, gel mattresses. Almost every major bedding manufacturer and brand is jumping on the gel bandwagon and singing its praises. But, whenever a new technology comes out it is always a good idea to look through the hype and see how the claims compare to the facts. In light of some surprising developments in the world of gel mattresses, we decided to dig a little deeper and see if these type of beds really deliver what they claim.
What are Gel Mattresses?
The gel trend was largely sparked by Serta, whose iComfort gel memory foam mattress line made a splash in 2011. Originally, it was introduced to help combat the notion that memory foam mattresses sleep hot. The idea is that including a layer of gel in the mattress will offer cooler sleep and assist with pressure relief. Many people often wonder what the gel is, and the best way to get an idea would be to think of the ice packs used for injuries and keeping your lunch cool.
Gel Mattress Types
The different brands incorporate gel in various ways. Some include a gel-pad layer on top or beneath the padding layers. Others pour it into the foam as it sets, or incorporate beads of gel into the foam. Gel memory foam mattresses are the most popular combinations, though gel mattresses are also springing up in latex and and innerspring styles, and even mattress pads.
The Cooling Claim
The key selling point of gel is that it is supposed to sleep cooler than beds without gel. The idea was generated based on complaints from owners of traditional memory foam beds involving overheating. This issue of sleeping too hot affects about 10-15% of all memory foam owners, who report that during the night body heat gets trapped and the bed becomes uncomfortably warm. This seems to be most linked with higher density, high-conforming, and closed cell foams.
By incorporating gel, the manufacturers hope to assuage consumers’ worries of beds sleeping too hot and get an edge over other brands. They tend to explain the “gel action” in fairly vague terms, usually stating the the gel will absorb body heat and transfer it away from the sleeper.
The Facts About Gel Mattresses
If you have used a gel ice pack before, you may have noticed that gel, an aqueous substance, tends to take on the temperature of its surroundings. It may be cold when it comes out of the freezer, but before long it takes on the temperature of your body or the room. There is no reason to think that the gel would behave any differently in a mattress. Initially, it will adopt the room temperature, which will feel cool against your warmer body. However, before long it will match your body temperature and the cooling effect will fade.
Initially, Serta advertised that their iComfort foam slept cooler than Tempurpedic’s memory foam. However, towards the end of 2012 the National Advertising Board ruled that Serta should stop making these claims until it produced scientifically verifiable evidence. In the past year, the chips seemed to be stacked against gel mattresses. Here are a some other recent studies contradicting the cooling claims of gel products:
- Tempurpedic’s study that showed two of their beds slept slightly cooler than iComfort material (less than 1 degree).
- Foam manufacturer Cargill conducted studies showing that plant-based memory foam slept 25% cooler than gel memory foam.
- Consumer Mattress Reports 2013 guide found no discernible differences in breathability from gel mattresses versus standard mattresses.
Others have questioned the durability and longevity of gel mattresses. Due to the opposite natures of water-based gel and oil-based memory foam, there are concerns about how these materials will hold up over type and whether or not the inclusion of gel will affect the structural integrity of the foam. It is also not known how long the gel would continue to offer the claimed cooling properties.
Because this type of bed has only been on the market for a couple of years, reviews are limited especially in regards to durability. There does seem to be slightly fewer complaints of heat percentage-wise, but reviews can still be found that mention overheating on gel mattresses. On leading brands of gel mattresses, reviewers also seem to be more likely to mention quality issues compared to similar types without gel.
Given the recent studies and mattress comparisons examining gel brands versus their regular counterparts, it appears that gel mattresses cannot conclusively claim any major benefits. For consumers, this means that paying premium prices for mattresses just based on the inclusion of gel may not be a smart buying decision.
Rather than falling for the latest gimmick, consumers would be wise to consider the underlying value of the product and its reputation among consumers. For example, in our comparison of leading memory foam brands which included Serta’s iComfort line, we found that overall, plant-based memory foam mattresses from Amerisleep.com led the group in terms of owner reviews and performance. If you are considering gel mattresses, make sure you research the product quality, cost, owner reviews, and guarantees compared to other options, as purchasing based solely on cooling claims may leave you feeling burnt.